Do electric vehicles make sense for driving instructors?

Friday 16th August 2019

The future of driving, so we are told, is electric. So much so that the UK government has picked 2035 as the date when sales of pure petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned, heralding a new zero emissions age.

In fact, as part of a public consultation process on changing building regulations in England, it has been proposed that all new homes with a dedicated parking space should be legally required to include an electric vehicle (EV) charging point. There’s even pressure on the UK government to bring the 2040 date forward to 2030, a deadline the Irish government is already considering putting into legislation.

With this in mind, it would seem to make sense if those responsible for training the drivers of the future started thinking about when, rather than if, they should make their own switch to EVs.

On the face of it there is both an environmental and a financial case for doing so. Tuition cars tend to spend large portions of the day driving around densely populated areas where emissions are particularly problematic. And, with so many cities planning to introduce Clean Air Zones similar to London’s ULEZ, continuing to use internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, particularly diesel, will mean ever increasing financial penalties and other restrictions.

Of course, many driving instructors will rightly question whether it is practical to make the switch now, or if such a change would cause more problems than it solves.

 

Why should I consider an EV? 

To help you decide, let’s explore the case for EVs by looking at some of the unique features which could impact the teaching environment and business viability of such a decision:

 

They’re quiet…

The absence of revving, humming and clattering noises produced by combustion may well have a calming effect on some students, allowing them to focus on developing their new driving skills. This would also benefit instructors who spend such a large part of their day in the vehicle.

 

They only have one gear and no clutch…

The extremely high torque produced by electric motors means that EVs don’t need gearboxes, clutches, or automatic transmissions. These are all parts that tend to wear out when driven around for long periods each day, especially when it is somewhat hesitantly. This is actually just one of the reasons that EVs are generally more reliable and need less maintenance than traditional cars.

Of course, passing a test in an EV will only give the student a licence to drive an automatic vehicle. However, the number of automatics on the road is rapidly increasing, with 2017 seeing them account for 40% of sales. The number of people taking the automatic driving test has also risen to 10%, up from 4% just a decade ago.

If you are already offering automatic lessons, then an EV could be considered as a possible upgrade, and it would certainly be a more future-proof automatic for the job.

 

EV brakes last (almost) forever

Another part that tends to get a lot of use in instructor cars, and therefore needs to be replaced frequently, are brakes. After all, there are twice as many brake pedals in instructor cars as ordinary ones, and some instructors report wearing through three sets of pads in just 60,000 miles.

EVs regenerate energy from momentum when the accelerator is released, slowing the car down, so the brakes are used much less frequently or harshly than in combustion cars. Many EV drivers report driving well over 100,000 miles without needing to replace pads.

So far so good, but you could argue that there are lots of other reasons EVs aren’t right for you or your business. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons driving instructors might rule EVs out and see whether they hold up to scrutiny.

 

EVs ranges are increasing...

EV ranges have increased remarkably in recent years. This is true even of their real, as opposed to ‘brochure’ ranges, which tend to be c.15% shorter. For example, the Nissan Leaf has a real-world range of 128 miles on a full charge. The Renault Zoe Q90: 132 miles, and the VW e-Golf: 117 miles.

A typical driving test covers 10-15 miles, which is a reasonable yardstick for the mileage of a driving lesson. Add five miles for travelling between lessons, and a fully charged Nissan Leaf could give you 5-6 lessons a day without recharging.

If this is still not enough for your needs then it’s worth remembering that the public rapid-charging network has also grown, and there are now more than 5,400 connectors in over 1600 locations around the country, including all UK motorway service stations (except Folkstone). If you want to check the coverage in your area, just a take a look at Zap Map which shows up to date figures and locations for all types of charging points.

 

Without off-road parking I can’t charge up overnight…

Although you can request the local council to install on-street residential charging, this is probably still a deal-breaker if you operate out of your home, or intend to commute in the EV instructor car.

However, it is widely accepted that battery capacity will continue to improve and charging times will come down, making it much more practical to own an EV without off-road parking.

 

The batteries will need to be replaced…

Nissan recently claimed, based on battery degradation data from the 400,000 Leafs sold in Europe, that their batteries will last 22 years. A decade-or-so longer than the average life of the car itself. Additionally, most EV manufacturers already offer long warranty periods, often around 8 years.

 

They’re too expensive…

It’s true that EVs currently cost rather more than their ICE equivalents to buy, though government grants such as the Plug-in Car Grant of up to £3,500 for pure EVs (grants are no longer available for plug-in hybrids) help take the edge off the price difference. These are available for private motorists and businesses, including driving instructors, choosing a new EV. There are also grants defraying up to 75% of the cost of installing fast home charging points.

Additionally, if you operate out of your own business premises, and have off-street parking, there is a Workplace Charging Scheme (WCS), offering grants that reduce the purchase and installation cost of multiple charging stations by 75%. You don’t have to currently have an EV to apply, just an existing or future need for your business.

EVs do cost more to insure, and still depreciate faster than other kinds of cars, though this gap is closing as EVs become more popular. Of course, depreciation is already factored into monthly leasing payments, helping to avoid any nasty surprises down the line.

Having said all this, the meagre running costs of EVs are unrivalled. Firstly, because you escape all the taxes and charges, such as Vehicle Excise Duty and Benefit in Kind taxation, which are levied directly on car use/ownership. And if you live or operate your instructing business in the central London area, you will rack up substantial savings by not having to pay the London Congestion Charge or ULEZ fees.

Meanwhile, many councils offer discounted or free parking for EVs, which could be particularly beneficial for instructors, who often have breaks between lessons.

What’s more, you would be swapping a 400% rate of tax on petrol and diesel for a 5% tax on electricity. This means that your fuel costs will likely be around 4-6p a mile, compared to approximately 13-16p a mile for petrol and diesel. Given the relatively high mileage of the average instructor, this adds up to a substantial saving over time.

Finally, because of their simple motors, no oil or filters to change, the lack of gears and clutches, and the much-extended life of brakes, EVs cost considerably less to service and maintain than ICE cars.

This not only means less money to pay out, but also less downtime for your key money-earning asset.

 

Want to talk it through with us?

Whether or not it makes sense for you to make the switch now depends on your individual circumstances but, all things considered, perhaps the EV future isn’t as far off, or as impractical, as you may have thought.

If you would like to find out more about how leasing an electric driving instructor vehicle from Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions could work for you, just get in touch.